Monday, 2 July 2012

Imagine there's no politics

I hate politics. No, really I do. And don’t tell me there aren’t myriad things that any of you would prefer to do with your time than politics.

John Lennon asked people to imagine a life without religion – well what about a life without politics?

The trouble, though, is that for that to happen, we’d all need to see a society that we believed needed no change.

Which would mean very different things to different people – as even a cursory glance at our present situation illustrates.

Some would want to create equity and fairness by regulation; some would believe that allowing those at the top of the income tree totally free reign to make more money would benefit everyone below.

Some would believe in more state – some in as little as possible.

One might need to invoke Jeremy Bentham and his idea that the greatest good is the one that produces the greatest happiness – in other words, whatever pleases a majority.

Although, in the manner of the old adage about not being able to please all of the people all of the time, that would still leave a percentage of the people unhappy.

And that, in essence, is democracy: or so you’d think.

But for that to work, we all need to do politics. Whether we like it or not.

And when we don’t do politics, we get a situation such as we’re seeing today.

Just look at what we have found out, just recently, about what has been going on at Barclay’s Bank – and quite probably other banks too.

Unless something quite dramatic changes, the people ultimately responsible are quite possibly going to get away with it.

Yet someone who looted a solitary bottle of water during last summer’s riots was sentenced to prison.

If the latter was a crime – why not the former?

And that brings us to a fascinating question: who is the country being run for?

Look at the Olympics. Who will benefit? It won’t be the small, independent businesses, some of which are being told – in effect – told they cannot trade during the Games.

This has been done in order to ensure that big, multi-national businesses that have paid some money to be Olympic sponsors face no competition on advertising in and around Games venues and coverage; no competition at Games venues – McDonalds will be the only ‘restaurant’, for instance – and then, to cap it off, the same companies are being exempted from paying any UK tax between March and November of this year.

So how are ordinary taxpayers, who have paid for the whole shebang, going to benefit? Bread and circuses, tied in with a dose of patriotism?

Well, a £60m ‘retail boom’ has been predicted – but that’s primarily going to be to the benefit of the big businesses that are already making the big bucks.

Unless it becomes part of the ‘Olympic legacy’, unemployment have not noticeably fallen, suggesting a vast boost to employment and the economy as a whole from hosting the Games.

But let’s move on.

Look at the health service. The other day, GP and Private Eye correspondent Dr Phil Hammond tweeted that private health insurance companies are already giving patients (customers) money to go back to the NHS for costly cancer care rather than the same private health care companies finding their profits hit.

That, in a nutshell, is everything that’s wrong with private healthcare – and exactly why the NHS is so precious.

But surely health secretary Andrew Lansley must understand this?

Well, he’s been privately funded by private healthcare companies for years. If he sells off the health service – as he is trying to do – does anyone seriously think that, if he loses his seat at the next election, he won’t have loads of lovely, lucrative directorships to step into?

So is he doing what he is doing out of nothing more than personal greed – or because he really believes that the public will genuinely benefit from his overturning everything about the health service (something that renders David Cameron’s pre-election promise of “no more top-down reorganisation” in the NHS a total lie, incidentally)?

That’s one of the other things about politics – is everyone really behaving with the best interests of Bentham’s masses in mind? Are you sure? Can you be sure?

Is there a sort of national naivety that still generally believes that all politicians of all parties many be misguided but are generally benign in their intent?

Recent affairs suggest otherwise.

You need a modicum of pragmatism as well as some ideology in politics, together with a bit of enlightened self-interest.

By the latter, I don’t mean greed – but to say that things that improve society as a whole are usually better for yourself is self-interest, and it’s pretty enlightened.

If you have less crime, for instance, that’s better for everyone. More crime is committed by people with very little financial resources and decent work than by those in an opposite situation.

So how about helping to ensure that as many people as possible have jobs – and that those jobs pay a decent, living wage, as well as ensuring that the police and judicial services are properly funded and staffed too?

Okay, that might mean a slightly bigger state than you’d ideologically say that, ideally, you approved of, but the end surely justifies the means – and you benefit as well as the people with jobs and a decent income.

Yet some people really don’t seem to get this. Could it really be rocket science?

In the US, for instance, some neo-liberals and laissez faire free-market fetishists are still whinging about the stimulus packages that rescued the US motor industry.

At the simplest level, it kept people in jobs – and that is better for the economy and society than them being out of jobs, which is hardly a cost-neutral situation for society.

That’s hardly a statement of ideological idiocy, is it?

Come on – who are the idiots here?

On the one hand, that should be easy to answer. It’s the people who, in our own times and situation, still continue to believe that austerity works and is the only way.

Except that that’s not true.

Some of them don’t believe that austerity works (or that it’s ‘the only way’). What they do believe, however, is that it’s a great excuse to strip away the state, to strip away regulation (because that’s what caused the financial crisis and the subsequent recession in the first place) and to open up everything possible to themselves and their friends to make as much money as personally possible.

As the Thatcher era taught us: greed is good. Loadsamoney!

And so many have been caught up in the belief that austerity is the only way; that the deficit is a simple matter – just like having spent too much last month and have busted your overdraft – and even that the problems were all caused by spending on schools and hospitals, and ‘gold-plated’ pensions for the people who care for the elderly and clean the wards and take your 999 call.

And here’s another little problem with politics: because in a sense, I am, right here and right now, saying that they’re wrong; that they’re possibly naïve or gullible – and that I know better.

And in essence I’m assuming that most of you reading this know better too.

Oh, I can point out that there is a heavily biased media in this country and that, in general, it has peddled that mythology; that the Fourth Estate of which I am a card-carrying member has, in many ways been emasculated by the greed and lack of responsibility to fairness and truth of media barons and magnates, of which Rupert Murdoch is simply the biggest.

But then, in many ways, I’m saying that people aren’t very bright if they simply accept what they’re spoonfed by such media.

I don’t actually like that. Or rather, I don’t feel particularly comfortable with it.

But if I try to claim that the views that I hold (on any subject) hold up no better than those of anyone else – that all views are ultimately subjective and owe nothing to differing levels of evidence etc – then ain’t that relativism?

And when it comes to such things as politics, I like to think that at least a chunk of what I eventually decided is right, wrong or somewhere in the middle, is actually based on facts.

Austerity is not based on facts – or not on what its proponents tell you are facts. Even the International Monetary Fund (hardly a bastion of lefty thinking) has admitted that austerity doesn’t work and that austerity isn’t working.

So when certain figures or publications tell you that ‘there is no alternative’, they’re either deluded themselves or they’re telling porkies.

Which, of course, brings us to why.

Greed. Self interest without any enlightenment – and without any responsibility or accountability that matters.

I mentioned Lansley earlier. What will it matter to him if the electorate vote him out at the next opportunity? He’ll have done what he set out to do, and he won’t be suffering.

You could look at Tony Blair too – lining his pockets further by helping a despotic regime in Kazakhstan. That’s a country that – entirely coincidentally – has oil. Perhaps the former PM is looking the place over for signs of WMD …

There are times when I think that a heaven and hell would be a nice idea, if it meant that shits like Blair and his prayer buddy Dubya actually paid for what they did. Since there isn’t, let’s hope someone actually manages to arrest him one of these days – there is a bounty on offer to anyone making such an attempt.

Is there really anyone left who doesn’t realise that Blair was Son of Thatcher – a neo-liberal to his own core, who took up where she had left off, deregulating (so that it would be easier for the banks to screw everyone else) and selling off even more stuff so that private firms could crash down wages, sack staff and offshore in order to increase their profits.

It’s utter economic imbecility and short termism.

If you have an economy that is dependent on the service sector – including retail – then you need people to have money to spend in that sector.

If they don’t spend, companies go bust, more people end up unemployed, paying no tax but claiming benefits and with no money to spend in the service sector, thus ensuring that ever more business go bust – and so forth.

People need jobs. And they need to be paid a living wage for doing them. That is the only way to gain growth and cut the deficit in the short term. Rebalancing the economy is essential in the longer term, but cannot happen over night.

And this is hardly rocket science. I’m not some sort of economic Einstein in claiming that. It’s straightforward common sense.

But let’s have a look at the Eton boys – full of a belief that they were born to govern. Does anyone really believe that they care about the country or the bulk of the people therein?

I don’t. There’s hardly a politician in any party who has an inkling of ‘the real world’ (I know – I‘m squirming even as I write that cliché, but it’s true). And in the case of a lot of the current government, I don’t think they care either.

And that, when I’d much prefer to be doing other things, is why I ‘do’ politics to some degree.

It’s because I do care. And also because I’m a pragmatist – and a realist. And because, horribly as I get older, I realise that it’s just plain old bleedin’ common sense.

It is worth pointing out that there's nothing much new about corruption in politics. Take a look at Hogarth's pictures of English life or read Dickens on elections and bribery in The Pickwick Papers (see ilustration).

So let's avoid getting caught in a trap about imagining some halcyon time in the past.

The moral of this, for want of a better word, is that if you aren’t prepared to do even a tiny bit – by which I mean voting and trying to keep yourself informed and thinking past the knee-jerk headlines – then you don’t have the right to whinge when you get walked over.

Put up a bit of a fight, in other words.

As the great German author and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann put it: "A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries."

Mann, who at one time was mooted by some as the first post-war German president, said that: "everything is politics".

He also noted: "Every reasonable human being should be a moderate socialist" – which considered construction should get the brain cells churning.

Oh – and I still hate politics!

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